Tag Archive for: Cheese

I’m late to the party. Ever thus. Until the other week I dIdn’t realise that Graviéra, second most popular cheese in Greece after feta, could age for eight years or more. Jay Hickson, founder of Calder Cheese House just down the road from us and a mountain cheese expert, brought a chunk of this aged version back from his treks around Crete.

One Tyrokomeío Patsourákis had crafted this particular specimen on April 15 2015, using raw sheep’s milk from his flock. Jay described it as “bright and rich with honeyed caramel tones” and he was spot on. As a hard cheese it had probably once been buttery but now it was brittle and ultra-nutty. Nice to nibble with a glass of Belgian Trappist’s finest Westmalle Tripel, the rind end was a revelation grated into a dense minestrone. Reminiscent of old gruyere forming a crust of mega cheesiness on the surface of a soupe à l’oignon.

Alas, Calder Cheese House has now sold out of Graviéra Krítis but – shameless plug – the shop is an Aladdin’s cave of dairy-led wonders and considerably kinder on the pocket than La Fromagerie, which has three outlets in London – Highbury (cheese guru Patricia Michelson’s original shop which I first visited 30 years ago), Lamb’s Conduit Street and just off Marylebone High Street. 

It was into the latter that I popped en route to review Chet Sharma’s Bibi restaurant My target was the only American cheese they stock, one mentioned in Patricia’s encyclopaedic  but accessible Cheese (2010), subtitled ‘A journey through taste tradition and terroir’. I‘d assumed the creamery was in California, but couldn’t find it on my California Cheese Trail app (every home should have one) alongside folksy treats such as Bleeting Heart sheep’s and Pugs Leap goat.

It turns out that my other belated major discovery of 2023, Rogue River Blue, hails from Oregon and is a Big Cheese, as they say, and not just in those West Coast parts. in the 2019/20 World Cheese Awards, held in Bergamo, Italy, it was crowned World Champion Cheese, first American entry to ever take the prestigious global award. Not that it has been hiding its light under a bushel since its first release in 2003…

So what makes Rogue River Blue so exceptional?

You could argue the steep price – £63.60 for 500g – but it is the phenomenal care that goes into making it.. After being aged for eight months it then finishes maturing for a further six to eight months wrapped in Rogue Valley grape leaves (Syrah and Merlot, I believe) that have been macerated for a year in Clear Creek Pear Brandy, flagship spirit from one of America’s oldest artisan distilleries. When it emerges from the custom-built ageing caves this is no shrinking violet. Pit an Amarone against it to be on the safe side. My saison beer struggled to contain the densely creamy fudginess shot through with a sharp saltiness in the blue veins. I could swear the aftertaste was of smoky bacon, maybe even barley wine, too.

You might also come across Smokey Blue, the original Rogue recipe for the first blue cheese ever made on the US West Coast. This has traditionally been given a caramel nuttiness by being smoked for 16 hours over hazelnut shells. But staff at La Fromagerie warned me River Blue was definitely the way to go

It has obtained cult status, comparable to say Russian River’s Pliny The Elder in the American beer world. There’s huge hype around the annual release of the cheese, which  often coincides with the autumn equinox. Surely justified by the care that has gone into the production. Both the full fat milk from their own herds from the previous fall and the hand-picked vine leaves are organic and all that ageing is labour-intensive.

We wonder what French President Emmanuel Macron made of it in December 2022 when it was one of three American cheeses serve at a White House state dinner by Joe Biden. Did this devotee of Roquefort relish or resist this rogue element on the cheeseboard and proclaim: “Sacré bleu”?

Food heroes – there are many claimants. Few are a patch on a monocled Major credited with saving traditional British cheese. From the Fifties onwards war hero Patrick Lowry Cole Holwell Rance promoted the real thing through his polemical writing and regular stock of 150 cheeses at his village shop in Streatley, Berkshire.

Current champions of raw milk farmhouse cheeses the Courtyard Dairy near Settle are quick to acknowledge their debt to the great man, who died two decades ago.

Yet Rance’s partisan spirit was never insular. The majority of the unpasteurised wheels and rounds stacked to the rafters at Wells Stores were French and arguably his greatest contribution to cheese chronicling was The French Cheese Book (1989). I have this treasured 550 page magnum opus in front of me now as I seek out his thoughts on the adjacent Mont d’Or, one of the great French autumnal treats, much more readily available here than in his day.

Like the first cuckoo of spring, I await the first oozing Mont d’Or image of the autumn from out little town’s resident cheesemonger. Jay mailed me a selection this year as the cheeses, all the Brexit bureaucratic boxes ticked, trickled in from the Jura after the mid-September start of the six month season.

It’s early days yet and the billowing crust is yet to attain the peach-pink hue of perfection, but stick a spoon in and the interior ooze offers a buttery, almost clotted cream flavour, with a beguiling sappiness no other cheese quite matches.

This year’s first hand experience comes second best to that of September 2019 when we just happened to be in the Jura mountains – also home to Comté – when the first Mont d’Ors hit the restaurants in the shadow of the ‘Golden Mountain’ that gives its name to the cheese. 

At an unpretentious village auberge, as tradition demands, a whole Mont d’Or was baked in its spruce bark ‘belt’ and served with potatoes, gherkins and a bottle of the tart local white, Savagnin. A posher establishment might have partnered the cheese with an aristocratic Vin de Jaune. Check out Fiona Beckett’s Matching Food and Wine blog last month for further tips.

Back to the bark wrapping. Major Rance’s take in his chapter on Franche-Comté is magisterially atmospheric: “In my mind I have often put myself in the place of a snowbound comtois farmer, collecting logs from the neat stack under the snow-heavy eaves. I have pictured his being suddenly struck by the warm beauty of the cut spruce and its resinous bark, which can glow like mahogany and smell like heaven. 

“A cheese could look like this, he might well have felt. So, on a base cut above the log, with a ring of épicéa bark around it to contain its enthusiasm, a new soft cheese was born. Bathing in brine helps seal bark and cheese together, and the resinous flavour and aroma spread into the cheese as it ripens.” 

Quite. That’s the full experience I’m getting now, not neglecting the sensory delights of gnawing the bark too. I scoop the unctuous cheese out onto a sourdough slice, the first of several. My preference, I’ve chosen not to bake this mini Mont d’Or. 

Vacherin is its more familiar name. The nefarious Swiss across the border nabbed the legal right to use the Vacherin-Mont d’Or moniker for their inferior, semi-pasteurised version, leaving the French with ‘Mont d’Or’ or ‘Vacherin du Haut-Doubs’ (the local département).

It’s no truism when you say you can taste the mountains in the cheese: as autumn nears the cow herds come back to the stables after summering on the high sub-Alpine pastures. The key to its allure is the richness of the milk, exclusively from Montbéliarde cattle. It is made when the yield from the cows is less and more intense, so more suitable for production of soft cheese, rather than the harder Comté cheese. After 21 days’ ageing Mont d’Or is packed in spruce boxes ranging from 480g to 3.2kg.

Closer to home Montbéliardes are also the milk source for Baron Bigod, Suffolk’s feisty answer to Brie.

Our own encounter with these brown and white beasts came during that Jura foodie road trip. The evening of our fondue-style Mont d’Or meal we had arrived at our folksy gite, La Ferme de Fleurette, in the village of Les-Hopitaux-Vieux. After a long drive we were keen to freshen up, No chance. We were immediately off in the hire car to a milking parlour high up among the forests. Our farmer host Mickaël steered us through the mud to introduce his beloved herd, raw milk from which is used to make Comté. 

Raw, yes. Pasteurisation would destroy much of the character. Rich from unsprayed grazing teeming with wild flowers and herbs, Mickaël’s milk will go to a ‘fruitier’ to be turned into traditional cheese. There are roughly 150 of these small village dairies, supplied by 2,700 farms across this beautiful, unspoilt region in the east of France. Below are the Fromagerie du Mont D’Or at Metabief and the Fruitiere des Lakes at at Labergement-Sainte-Marie in the Haut Jura.

Comté is built for ageing, for up to 24 months before it is released; Mont d’Or is for early consumption. Keep it  wrapped in greaseproof paper inside a polythene bag, and store in the fridge – it should keep for around a week. Don’t wrap in clingfilm, as it will make it sweat.

It has never lasted that long at our house. The final word goes to Major Rance: “If you are not in stuffy company: lick the bark after each mouthful of cheese, and do not waste what is left; put it on the fire to die in a scent of glory…”

Calder Cheesehouse, 56 Patmos, Burnley Road, Todmorden OL14 5EY. For Mont d’Or and all your cheese and deli needs.

Destination restaurants in Manchester hotels are almost extinct. The days when Michael Caines had his name over the door at Abode and David Gale ruled Podium at the Hilton further down Piccadilly are long gone. Both now offer standard hotel brasserie fare. As do relative newcomers such as Dakota (though their Grill, well sourced, is surprisingly good), QBIC and Hotel Brooklyn.

Adam Reid, following his mentor Simon Rogan at The French inside the Midland Hotel, continues to fly the flag for Great British Menu style fine dining, but even that failed to make the cut in this year’s Estrella Damm Top 100 UK Restaurants list.

Arguably the city’s most high profile hotel, The Lowry, has dumbed down from the early Noughties days when German chef Eyck Zimmer created some of the finest dishes ever seen in Manchester. Recent restaurant space makeovers there and at the Radisson Edwardian do not equate to a radical upgrade of the food offering. The Peter Street Kitchen at the latter, partnering Mexican and Japanese menus, is a wild card, though. Let’s leave it at that.

Which bring us to Sunday lunches, a perennial draw in hotel dining rooms. Scrap them at your peril. The worst case scenario being carveries, which discreetly we’ll shove on the back burner.

Possibly the best roast in town is inside the Stock Exchange Hotel, at the Bull and Bear. You’d expect that from Tom Kerridge, whose whole ethos trumpets comfort food done with accomplishment. But, though the stunning setting sings ‘destination’, we’re not talking food on a level of his two Michelin star pub in Marlow, The Hand and Flowers.

The Ducie Street Warehouse has relaunched its own Sunday Lunch offering with the added bonus of the UK’s first dedicated Cauliflower Cheese Menu, courtesy of head chef Andrew Green, who has previous in this department. At Mamucium dairy took centre stage one ‘Cheesemas’ with a menu that included a 3kg cheese wheel to share. 

I must admit my arteries wobbled at the though of tackling classic vintage cheddar cauliflower cheese and twists featuring truffle, bacon fizzles, blue cheese (our choice), garlic and herb crusted, macaroni, a totally vegan cauliflower cheese and, the ultimate, a four cheese version with parmesan, gruyere, philadelphia and cheddar. 

Relief came at table when I realised they were all sides at £4.50 a pop. Alternatives included old stagers such as Cumbrian pigs-in-blankets and honey roasted heirloom carrots.

Head chef Andrew Green is a meat and cheese specialist putting his stamp on Ducie Street Warehouse

Glossop-born Andrew has been one of the Manchester chef stalwarts in recent years. Though he started in an Italian restaurant, the rest of his his professional career has been in hotel kitchens, a couple at the Airport before he headed up The Lowry’s and then Mamucium’s. His forte has been meat cooking, notably a classic Beef Wellington, and he has always sourced from top notch butchers such as Mettrick’s, WH Frost and currently The Butcher’s Quarter.

So why am I slightly disappointed in the dry-aged shorthorn beef sirloin and roast supreme of corn fed chicken we share as mains? Small plate starters had signalled a user-friendly, standard, global hotel menu, but our mains didn’t take it up a gear. A pond of all-purpose gravy, chewy roasties and chunky Yorkies didn’t do the meats any favours – the chicken tasty enough but on the dry side, beef sliced in thin wafers needed the lift of the horseradish we requested.

Alternative Sunday mains were rosemary roasted leg of lamb, free-range gammon and a weekly changing vegan roast. You can even order a pick and mix of all four meats on the plate. Nothing to scare the punters but lacking the pizzazz of the setting, the vast stylish ground floor below the Native Hotel.

Slightly more exciting sounding is access to two-to-share offerings that sit in the normal a la carte – harissa spiced whole chicken, miso glazed fish of the day, 800g tomahawk of Cheshire beef or a whole roasted ‘ras el hanout’ cauliflower. 

Bistrotheque was the initial food and beverage offering when Native created 166 apartments in the Grade 11 listed Victorian warehouse back in. It was soon apparent its quirky comfort food at posh prices formula didn’t transfer well from the East London original, so after six months it was ditched and the 80 cover dining room became Restaurant at CULTUREPLEX (the co-working, arty raison d’etre for the rest of the ground floor). Highlight of this manifestation was a pop-up by the cutting edge restaurant team of Higher Ground (now operating Flawd at New Islington Marina). Its front of house expert, Richard Cossins, famously opened Fera at Claridge’s for Simon Rogan. But that was London and this is Manchester,  where the real culinary frissons are rarely to be found inside hotels. Now pass the horseradish.

Sunday with Sides’ is available every Sunday, with special cocktail offers and live music, from 12.30pm to 8.30pm at The Ducie Street Warehouse, 51 Ducie Street, Manchester, M1 2TP.

Sometimes a wine comes along that makes you re-think a neglected old favourite. That’s the case with Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera. It has been the subject of rave reviews on The Wine Society website but was I going to fork out even £15.50 for the least definable of sherry styles? Yet I have been paying the like for those new season ‘fresh’ finos tagged as En Rama (‘from the branch’).

As it turned out the Cayetano del Pino is among the wine world’s great bargains. Its creators, Bodegas Sánchez Romate – one of the few family-owned operators left in Jerez – are virtually giving away a fortified wine of this quality. Around 15 years old, pale bronze in colour, nutty, dry with a finish as long as the journey south from Madrid.

Aficionados are always complaining/gloating that the fortified wines of Jerez are undervalued. Image problem, you know? And of all sherry image problems, Palo Cortado’s is the thorniest. So Is it a heavier Amontillado? Or a lighter Oloroso? Neither. Though some cheap end Palo Cortados may be blends of both.

“It is the most ambiguous of all the sherry styles and the reverence with which it is regarded is undoubtedly fuelled by its air of mystery and legend…” write the authors of Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla

Without going into technicalities, Palo Cortado has been the black sheep of the sherry-making process since the 19th century. This process is based on the unique solera system of maturation across a large number of casks and fractional blending over many years. 

A key to a young sherry’s development towards Amontillado status is the protective layer of ‘flor’ or yeasty bloom that settles on the surface of the base fino. Serendipitously it fails to persist in certain cask batches, the subsequent oxygen contact encouraging more intense flavour and alcohol. Each cask is then re-fortified to over 17 per cent and shifted to a Palo Cortado solera to age oxidatively.

Once a matter of chance but with modern techniques it’s down to manipulation. Cortado fans can spend far more than 15 quid on what is a rarity, representing only one per cent of all sherry made.


The name means ‘cut stick,’ in reference to the mark made on the cask when this style of wine is recognised. Since the wine was originally destined to be a fino or amontillado, it will initially have had a single stroke marked on the cask. When the cellar master realises that the wine is becoming a palo cortado, he draws a cross (or cut) through the initial stroke (or stick), resulting in a crossed stroke or ‘cut stick’.

A fond memory from visiting Jerez was tasting in the cellars of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla in the company of its avuncular owner, the Norwegian Jan Pettersen. I particularly love their Pedro Ximenez but the Antique Palo Cortado is equally distinctive. Boutinot Wines of Cheadle import the range and at each annual Manchester tasting I’d renew acquaintance of this honeyed, saline, finessed example.

For the moment, though, the Cayetano del Pino has stolen my heart. And not mine alone. One of my favourite wine writers, Rose Murray Brown reviewed it thus: “Lovely combo of vibrant freshness and rich texture. Our tasters loved the enticing toffee honeyed aromas and rich nutty complexity (and the pretty label). Bone dry, but not as searingly dry as some we tasted. Sleek elegant and attractive on the palate.”

What is the best food match for it, though? It would be easy, as with Amontillado or Oloroso, to sip it with a bowl of nuts, but it does enhance certain partnerships.

The obvious one is cheese, particularly hard cheese. My compadre and Spanish food guru Gerry Dawes, from New York, opined: ”I stopped using red table wines, really good ones, with cheese quite some time ago. Cheese completely changes the make-up of the red wine, and you lose the nuances. Sherry has enough elements that it stands out in relief.”

Triple cream cheeses might work, but i’m not sure; aged Alpine cheeses are definitely a perfect fit. 

Princess Alisia Victoria is just the kind of Alpine cheese that pairs beautifully with Palo Cortado

I’m lucky enough to have within 10 minutes’ walk, the Calder Cheesehouse, which has a delectable range of unpasteurised Beaufort, Comte, Gruyere and, more under the radar, Schlossberger and Princess Alisia-Victoria, both from Switzerland. In France’s Jura region, which we visited pre-Pandemic, the recognised accompaniment for Comte is the local, oxidised Vin Jaune, that has affinities with Palo Cortado. 

In Southern Spain itself it matches well with Iberico lomo or salchichon; at home in Todmorden we tried it successfully with a mixed charcuterie platter (air dried ham, lomo, culatello and coppa) from local producers Porcus. The sherry and cured fat make good buddies. Grilled fish seems to work with Palo Cortado, sardines and anchovies, too, but I’m not convinced about smoked salmon.

Pour a glass of the Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera, your charcuterie platter awaits

• For a succint explanation of Palo Cortado’s history and current specification visit the specialist website Sherry Notes or better still read Rose Murray Brown’s Masterclass on Palo Cortado.